Usually in the wins section of the e-Bulletin, we at SVBC talk about a “win of the week.” We do have plenty to celebrate, like the passage of Measure B, which includes $250 million for bike improvements along with strong complete streets policies. But it would be disingenuous to be chipper and not acknowledge the dark cloud that has descended upon the SVBC office.
The Wednesday morning after the election, SVBC’s diverse staff and I woke up demoralized. The question many staff asked was why bother to work hard in nonprofit for peanuts, to give and give and give to the community when the country appears to undervalue certain segments of our community?
I reached out to fellow executive directors in the nonprofit sector to ask how they were leading their teams when a) they, like me, were feeling punched in the gut and unable to hide it and b) their staff, like that of SVBC, consists mainly of women and people of color. The advice was to listen, cry, and allow the feelings of hurt and rejection to be processed.
Many may read what I’ve written so far and start to feel a little uncomfortable. That’s understandable. It also might make some question why this beloved bike advocacy organization is talking about racism and other isms, disquieting topics that only lead many of us – including myself, who are advantaged by their skin color, sexual orientation, and more – to feel bad about ourselves.
Tuesday’s election outcome offers an opportunity to answer those questions, to highlight SVBC’s efforts to achieve our vision of a community that values, includes, and encourages bicycling for all purposes for all people. ALL people.
Historically speaking, bike advocacy organizations and many nonprofits in the environmental space have been dominated by white, upper-middle-class individuals. SVBC is no different and for the past year has been doing some self-reflection to understand how to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. This effort is deeply felt by a diverse SVBC staff, nine committed individuals who wake up each day with the hopes of bringing health and happiness to ALL through a simple toy, the bicycle.
In a community as multi-cultural as Silicon Valley, it makes little sense to limit SVBC’s programs to a narrow demographic. For example, if we only focused our work on recreational cyclists, or only people who ride fixies, or only women, we’d unnecessarily handicap ourselves. Not only is that approach wrong, it hampers our ability to meet our goals – to create a healthy community, environment, and economy through bicycling. More specifically, we want 10% of trips to be taken by bike by 2025. We can’t accomplish that without reaching out to our community as a whole.
So what are we doing about it? For starters and as a caveat, we’re learning as we go, are bound to make mistakes and are open to feedback. We have mapped out several near-term steps to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive, and we have put together a workplan that includes:
- Self Education: SVBC staff and the board are going through a curriculum of readings, such as this one, that help organizations sort through this issue.
- Systems Change: Through the SVBC Policy Committee we have recently completed an assessment of the tools we use to determine priority advocacy work. Should we focus on the Page Mill/280 intersection, an area mostly used by recreational, higher-income cyclists? Or is it more important to spend staff time making streets in East San José safe for those who are bike dependent? By examining and retooling our systems for determining priorities, we now have criteria in place that fold in equity.
- Assessment Beginnings: At our last staff retreat, staff members were asked to map out, geographically, where SVBC works. The Willow Glen road diet, Vision Zero, bike lanes on El Camino Real – all of these projects were placed on a map. This exercise provided a visual aid, using geography as a proxy for equity, to determine if our work is heavily weighted towards certain communities.
- Staff/Board Diversity: Recruit and retain a diverse board and staff. (We’re hiring!)This is an ongoing challenge and we welcome any help our members and readers can offer in introducing us to community leaders outside our current sphere.
- Bike Share: All of the above can be categorized as first looking under the SVBC hood. And while we’re doing that, we’re getting impatient to do something. For that reason, we’ve started moving forward with an equity initiative in bike share. Bike share is a key piece of an intricate transportation puzzle, however its users are turning out to be mostly male and mostly white. For that reason, SVBC, in partnership with SFBC and Bike East Bay is in the process of securing grant funds to make sure bike share in San Mateo and San José is accessible to low-income individuals.
These are SVBC’s first-year efforts in being more deliberate about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Given the importance of this work and its role in motivating the diverse SVBC staff to joyfully come to work each day, Tuesday’s election outcome feels like a punch to the gut. That punch to the gut might make us wobble a bit, but we know that making sure our organization is doing its part to create a safer and more welcoming community for ALL is some of the most important work of our time.